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A Landmark Gets an Upgrade

Washington Street Mall, Cape May, NJ

by Remington & Vernick Engineers

A Landmark Gets an Upgrade

Constructed in the 1970s, the Washington Street Mall in Cape May, New Jersey, underwent a renovation years later when underground utility work forced the demolition of the mall's pavement. Remington & Vernick Engineers was part of the team that worked on the utilities and their efforts convinced the city to select them to manage the mall's restoration, which included granite curbs, brick sidewalks, bluestone plazas, ornamental pedestrian lighting and two water features.

The Washington Street Mall is a three-block downtown commercial center located in the heart of Cape May, New Jersey, a popular tourist community known for its Victorian architecture, drawing tens of thousands of visitors annually.

Historical Background
The Mall was originally built in the early 1970s when the town closed Washington Street between Ocean and Perry Streets to vehicular traffic and filled the street with landscaping, benches, shops and restaurants. In May 1976, the Secretary of the Interior designated the entire city as a National Historic Landmark District, thus ensuring the continued protection of this quaint, historic shopping mall.

In early 2005, underground utility work was performed at the mall. Because the paving needed to be demolished as a result of this construction, the city determined that it would be an opportune time to upgrade the aging mall. The existing paving had been patched with mismatched materials and heaving occurred, resulting in potential tripping hazards. The tree pits were too small and had been haphazardly placed. Plant material that had died was inappropriately replaced with trees that were weak-wooded and low-branched. The site lacked cohesion, which did not reflect the charming qualities of this seaside community. The city wanted to enhance the experience of walking around the mall, while preserving this streetscape and retaining its historic feel. Since Remington & Vernick Engineers (RVE) successfully assisted with the underground utility work, the firm was retained to lead the site improvements to Washington Street Mall.

Upgrading a Local Landmark
The city of Cape May requested that a conceptual plan be prepared, detailing improvements for this significant city landmark. The plan was based on meetings with project stakeholders and required careful consideration of the needs of merchants, tourists and residents. In addition, the proposed design needed to honor the site's historic character and comply with the requirements of the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office. The client specified natural building materials to provide warmth and a sense of timelessness.

Several important improvements were addressed as part of the conceptual plan, which incorporated additional seating and spaces for outdoor dining without hindering the enormous flow of pedestrian traffic.

A Landmark Gets an Upgrade

This is one of three alleyways that lead to the mall from the parking areas on surrounding streets. Crape myrtle trees were installed in the planting beds for summer color and underplanted with liriope and other perennials. Custom 36-gallon waste receptacles were specified to handle the large volumes expected. The city retained the existing benches, but they were renovated.

A Landmark Gets an Upgrade

Oversized tree planters (10' x 12') clad with stone veneer and capped with bluestone provide additional seating. Shade trees such as Red Sunset red maple, Princeton Sentry gingko, Halka honey locust and Chinese lacebark elm were selected to be salt tolerant and broad spreading. Structural soil was used to improve the quality of tree health within the paved environment.

Existing light fixtures were replaced with metal halide fixtures to improve color recognition and provide a moon shadow effect. Lighted bollards were placed at crosswalks to alert drivers of pedestrian crossings.

The city researched available types of fountains and ultimately selected a New Jersey company for their product. The fountains serve as meeting places and provide a cooling effect during the summer. Coins collected from the fountains are used for mall maintenance and seasonal displays.

The site has three existing electrical transformers located in the middle of the mall which impeded pedestrian traffic and detracted from the ambiance of the site. It was determined that they would be too expensive to move so they were clad in pergola structures with spaces for vines to climb in the future.

Three alleyways provide linkages between the surrounding parking areas and the mall. The planting beds were staggered opposite one another to maximize pedestrian traffic while providing screening.

A Landmark Gets an Upgrade

The street pavement was a blend of rumbled red brick, heavy-duty pavers and tumbled brick. A flush bluestone curb was used as a demarcation line for outdoor dining spaces and as a visual reference to the site's former use as a street. In front of the shops and restaurants is an 8"-wide granite curb. In places such as under the clock, 12" x 12" bluestone pavers in diamond patterns were featured. The natural building materials selected were intended to reflect the historic nature of the community, as were the cast iron and decorative steel, gaslamp-style pedestrian lighting supplied by a manufacturer from Oregon.

A Landmark Gets an Upgrade

Rotary Park received its own improvements, including new pavement, to coincide with the upgrades being done on the mall, which is just around the corner.

Overcoming Project Challenges
As Cape May is a historic seashore town, the sensitivities of those who live and work in the area had to be addressed. An active year-round community, local businesses needed to stay open so construction had to be staged without disrupting the natural flow of pedestrians visiting the mall.

The conceptual plan was presented to more than 150 people and RVE used a three-dimensional, computer-generated animation to show how the space would look when completed. Members of the community were initially resistant to changing this iconic area, but when RVE presented the plan, they welcomed the proposed upgrades. Once the conceptual plan was approved, construction began. RVE inspected all construction upon completion.

Meeting a Tight Schedule
With the summer months having the highest tourist volume, it was critical the project be kept on schedule and within budget. The Washington Street Mall was completed in June, just in time for the summer tourist season. Hundreds of guests attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was marked by a cappella singing, the release of doves and speeches from local officials.

The upgrade to the Washington Street Mall spurred a larger regional improvement, which included parking enhancements around the mall and upgrades to nearby Rotary Park, showing that the transformation of one area often leads to a positive overlap of surrounding areas, enriching the lives of all who live, work and play in a particular community.

As seen in LASN magazine, July 2019.

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October 21, 2019, 8:33 am PDT

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